THE MOONLIGHT TEST

Wow! One day and I've already updated! I'm doing pretty well this time! This next chapter is a little bit less long, but still, it's an important chapter.

Mum wondered if these curses Theodosia spoke of were true. But now, she had a job to do: read the story to Weems, Henry and Grandmother.

As luck would have it, it turned out to be another one of those nights when Father became so absorbed in his research that he forgot all about going home. It was the fourth night in a row, and for a change, it worked well with my own plans.

"Oh, Theodosia," sighed Mum. "What are you going through? Maybe we SHOULD send you to school..."

Just before midnight, I ventured out of the staff room into the museum. The gaslights had been turned low so that just a tiny blue bead glowed along the dark hallway at regular intervals. The feeble light from my oil lamp barely made a dent in the cavernous darkness, but I didn't let that deter me.

"You should have used a flashlight," suggested Mum.

I reached up and clutched the three protective amulets that hung around my neck.

By now, Weems was trying to secretly leave the room. "I will not stand for such nonsense as this," he muttered.

Father says I let my imagination run away with me, but the truth is, in the darkest hours of the night, if you look very closely (which I try not to) you can see the dangerous dead-the akhu and mut-rise up out of their urns and sarcophagi like a thick, choking mist.

Grandmother gasped and fainted. Dad tried to revive her, but he looked like he'd rather not. Mum told Weems, "Stay here, Weems," as Weems had just put one foot out the door. He gulped and hurried back to the table.

The ancient magic and words of terrible power ooze out of the arcane texts and inscribed objects.

Grandmother had to restrain herself so as not to faint again. She looked disgusted and highly taken aback at the same time.

They hover in the corners and lurk in the shadows. How could I possibly venture out into that without some protection, I'd like to know?

"Good point," muttered Mum.

Not wanting to make any noise that might draw the spirits' attention, I padded along in my stockinged feet, which were soon numb with cold.

"Poor Theodosia," Mum murmured.

Of course, Father had moved the wretched statue from the receiving area up to his workroom on the third floor.

"Of course," commented Dad.

I hugged the wall as I crept up the poolished wooded stairs, careful to avoid the ones that creaked.

No matter how quiet I was, the deep, gaping shadows around me seemed to grow larger and more forbidding. I was painfully aware of the last earthly remains, bones, coffins, and sacred relics of old, long-forgotten religions surrounding me.

Grandmother gasped and seemed creeped out.

In the light of my oil lamp, the shadows bobbed and weaved like leering demons.

Now even Mum seemed creeped out.

At last I reached the third floor and entered Statuary Hall. Enormous Egyptian sculptures lined the walls like ever-watchful guardians. The majestic faces of pharaohs stood side by side with mysterious sphinx heads, the smallest of which towered twenty feet high and cast harsh puddles of blackness on the floor.

"I go through nearly every day looking at those, and I never get creeped out," bragged Dad.

I hurried past the looming statues until I reached the doorway that led into the Ancient Egypt Exhibit.

"The pride of our museum," smiled Dad.

I paused, bracing myself. Even though I patrolled this exhibit as often as possible, I could never be too sure what might be waiting for me in there. Magic is a tricky business, and the Egyptians were masters of it. Some spells seemed to regenerate themselves after a full moon or on specific unholy days. Others were only visible during certain seasons or when the stars and planets were aligned just so.

"I didn't know that stars and planets had to do with Egyptian Black Magic," muttered Mum.

All in all, ancient Egyptian magic is a horrid jumble of sinister possibilities, and I never take anything for granted when dealing with it.

With one fortifying breath, I made a mad dash through the room, scurrying past the exhibit cases, looking neither to the right nor the left. Wit one last shiver, I reached the workroom door, yanked it open, and slipped inside.

"Oh, dear," murmured Mum.

This room was dark, too, but pale, silvery moonlight shone in through the windows. And in that pale moonlight sat the statue of Bastet, an intricate, malevolent pattern of sacred words and symbols writhing across its surface like a nest of restless vipers.

"This young lady knows very sinister words for her age," sighed Grandmother.

Sometimes I really hate being right.

As I drew near the statue, I caught the Symbol of Anubis, god of the underworld, as well as one for Seth, the god of chaos. There! Another symbol floated by, one I hadn't seen much but I think represented the demonic spirits of the restless dead.

"Honestly! What have you been teaching this young lady?" demanded Grandmother.

"We didn't teach her this. She must have learnt it all by herself," replied Mum, and then continued reading.

Any hopes I'd had of a rather small curse disappeared.

Mum shuddered. She hoped the curses weren't real, but by now she doubted it.

I was dealing with an artifact positively steeped in vile, Egyptian black magic.

I needed a closer look, so I would have to pick the horrid thing up.

Now even Grandmother shuddered.

I glanced around the workroom. Wearing gloves wasn't protection enough when the hieroglyphs were swarming like this. The symbols had a way of trying to poke their way through the gloves and into my hands. I wasn't very keen on those words and symbols of evil power running along my skin, if you please.

Mum looked around, and again caught Weems very close to the door, murmuring that he had better things to do than listen to hogwash about 'curses'.

I found an old rag on Father's worktable and wrapped it around my hand like an extra glove. Then I picked up the statue and carried it over to the window to have a better look.

The symbols slowed a bit once the statue was in my hand. I felt them probing at the rag, trying to get past the cloth barrier and worm their way into my flesh.

"Be careful!" warned Mum.

"You talk to books?" exclaimed Grandmother. Mum glared at her.

I had to hurry.

The symbol of Apep, the serpent of chaos, floated by, followed by Mantu, the god of war.

"What a strange combination," mused Mum.

How odd. I'd never seen him on a cursed object before. There were more symbols: symbols for armies and destruction and-

"Oh dear," murmured Mum. "Poor Theodosia."

There was a creak on the floorboards just outside the workroom door. Jolted into action, I scurried across the room, thrust the statue back on its shelf, and frantically searched for a hiding place.

"What horrid manners, stealing an artifact and then trying to HIDE it!" gasped Grandmother.

There were lots of shadowy corners, but I wanted something more substantial than that.

Spying an old packing crate in the corner, I hopped inside and covered myself as best I could with bits of packing material.

"Disgusting," sniffed Grandmother.

I hunkered down, averted my eyes from the door, and waited.

You may wonder why I didn't look up to see the intruder. I can assure you, I wanted to. But I've lived alongside the restless, ancient spirits long enough to know that when you look at things, you focus your whole ka, or life force, on them, which causes their power to grow even stronger.

"Nonsense," muttered Weems. "Don't you agree?"

"No," snapped Mum, and proceeded with the story.

If this nighttime visitor was of the supernatural variet, focusing my life force on it was as good as shining an oil lamp in its face.

My oil lamp!

"Oh, dear," thought Mum.

I peered through a crack in the side of the crate and saw my discarded lantern off to the side of the shelves. Luckily, the flame had gone out.

"Phew!" breathed Mum.

The door swung open, creaking slightly on its hinges. The footsteps paused in the doorway, as if the person or thing were surveying the room. Then the floorboards creaked again as someone, or something, stepped inside. I risked a glance through the crack again, just long enough to see a black hooded shape moving across the floor.

"Please, please, PLEASE," murmured Mum, "Tell me that the figure is a person and not a thing."

I wrenched my gaze away and tried to still the beating of my heart. It sounded like thunder to my ears-surely the intruders would hear it!

The footsteps came to a stop in front of the shelves, mere inches from where I was hiding.

Mum tried not to squeal in concern.

Risking another peek, I saw the large black shape studying the middle shelf, where I'd put the statue of Bastet back in its place.

"Maybe he's the one who stole the Heart of Egypt, and he also stole the Bastet statue..." murmured Dad. "That's a likely hypothesis, don't you think, dear?"

Somehow, Mum doubted it.

As my eyes swept downward again, I noticed two black shoes poking out from under the figure's long cape.

"Which means it's a person!" thought Mum.

My heart calmed a bit. Supernatural beings don't wear shoes. Whatever it was—whoever it was—it must be human. Which I greatly preferred to the alternative.

"I'd prefer that too, were it me," commented Mum.

"But ma'am," protested Weems, "I doubt that Theodosia is telling the truth about these curses and whatnot.

"My daughter," replied Mum, "Would not tell lies."

Weems snorted.

Although, anyone skulking around a museum in the dad of night was probably up to no good. Except for me, of course—I had only the noblest of motives.

"Sure," snorted Grandmother, rather sarcastically.

Slightly more confident now, I risked another glance and saw a long, black arm snake out from underneath the cloak. The movement sent a slight current of air toward me and I caught a whiff of boiled cabbage and pickled onions.

Clive Fagenbush!

"I knew it!" declared Weems. "He's always been suspicious..."

Before I could sort out this puzzle, there was another squeak of the floorboards outside the workroom door. With a hiss of indrawn breath, Fagenbush snatched his empty hand back, then stepped around the shelves and flattened himself against the wall so that he was hidden from sight.

"A very suspicious thing to do!" announced Weems.

He now faced directly toward me. I scrunched down as small as I could in the crate and wished I were invisible.

The new intruder fumbled loudly with the doorknob, not even trying to be quiet.

"That 'intruder' is your FATHER!" declared Dad. "How dare you insult me so, Theodosia?" he demanded.

A quick, sure step came into the workroom, accompanied by a tuneless whistle.

I slumped in relief. It was only Father, on one of his midnight ramblings.

"How dare you call them ramblings?" exclaimed Dad.

He turned up the gas and flooded the workroom in soft yellow light.

Wondering if Father could see him, I glanced over at Fagenbush's hiding spot, only to find he'd disappeared.

I craned my neck, trying to see where he had gone, but he was nowhere in sight. Then I glimpsed a flutter of movement near the door as he slipped out of the workroom.

"A shame you didn't see him, sir," muttered Weems.

Bother! He'd gotten clean away. But at least he hadn't conked Father over the head or discovered my whereabouts.

As I crouched in the crate, I realized I needed to come up with a plan to get my hands on that statue before somebody else did.

"How disrespectful!" sniffed Grandmother.

I considered taking it back to my room, but I couldn't bear the thought of those loathsome curses anywhere near me as I slept. I finally settled o nhiding it that night, then returning it first thing in the morning while Father was having breakfast.

"At least she was planning on returning it," muttered Dad.

It took ages for Father to find whatever it was he was looking for, but he finally left, turning out the lights and closing the door behind him. I waited a few minutes more to let him get safely out of the way. Once my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I climbed out of the crate and went over to the shelf. Using the rag, I lifted the statuette and placed it in the crate where I'd been hiding.

"A good hiding place," thought Mum.

I tossed some packing material over it, then grabbed my oil lamp, now uselessly dark, and made my was over to the door. I peeked out into the exhibit room.

The museum seemed unusually restless. The creaks and groans had grown louder and more frequent.

Mum shuddered.

With my hand clutched firmly around all three amulets, I raced back through the display rooms. I felt disgruntled dead things rustle as I passed, the shadows growing longer as they reached out towards me.

Now even Grandmother and Weems were shuddering, however slightly.

I put on an extra burst of speed.

Now do you see why I loathe the museum at night?

"Yes," replied Mum and Grandmother.

"That's the end of the chapter," said Mum. "Why don't you read for a while, Henry?"

"All right," said Henry. "This next chapter is called Work To Do."

Well, that's it for this chapter, and now I need to work on the next! PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE review! Review and I'll update!