Wrapped In Time
By T.A. Brock
(Based on the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty)
(Based on the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty)
When one dies while sacrificing their life for the sake of another, they live on. What is deemed a death isn’t really one at all, but rather a life that keeps going, extended through the living of another. In honor of this sacrifice, the physical body of such a person is treated as a great treasure. They are cleaned of their organs—all except the heart, the source of all thought and emotion. No afterlife can be traversed without it. They’re washed with palm wine that has been mixed with spices and rubbed with the precious minerals of the desert.
Then time. Forty suns must rise and fall before the linen is applied. The wrapping is the most integral part of the process. It will either produce a curse or a blessing. Most often, it is a blessing but one can never be sure.
Each limb is swaddled in the oil scented cloth, followed by the torso and finally the head. This is where the ritual takes on magic. Precious gems are placed within the folds of the wrapping to protect and aid the person in their quest through the afterlife. Each quest is different.
I wondered what Ravi’s quest would be. I knew mine. And it wasn’t going to be a simple one.
“Are you certain about this, Cleo?” Anga asked, her black brows furrowed over a prominent nose. “Let pharaoh avenge the death of the prince. The sorceress will surely be punished for this.”
I shook my head. “Nay. None of my father’s magicians know her magic. She defeats them at every turn.”
“Indeed.” Helter stood with her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “Her spells are fed by a hatred so dark even Ra the sun god cannot breach its shadow.”
If a truth was to be told, it would come from Helter’s mouth. And she was right. The sorceress was an evil more pure than the gold in the Ptolemy tombs.
“Her curse was meant for you, Cleo. You were to die. Prince Ravi… prevented that. Let it go. Please.” My gaze drifted over to the small, shaking, voice. Of the three of my enchanted handmaidens, Flixus was the youngest, the one with the purest heart, and usually the happiest. If any of us could be called happy anymore.
I cocked my head, feigning, for her benefit, that I was considering her words. “Do you truly think she will stop at this? She has pledged upon the life of her only born that I shall sleep unwrapped for an eternity.” I fought a shiver. Nothing sounded worse than that fate. Traversing the afterlife unwrapped? And forever. I might as well die a million deaths by a poisonous viper.
“There must be another way,” Flixus pleaded.
Her words were almost my undoing. They were the same words Ravi said to me seventy-two nights ago. The last words he said to me. They were significantly better than the last words I spoke to him. Is your mind taken by a sickness? I could never love you. You know what my fate will be if ever I find love. How dare you even imply such a thing!
He knew my curse. Everyone knew. I cannot love. Ever.
That very night, he knowingly placed himself in a trap that was intended for me. He intercepted the golden urn containing an asp. A cobra that the sorceress bespelled.
It didn’t matter that my love for Ravi didn’t exist. She saw the opportunity and she struck. Except the prince stepped in front of the deathblow. The prick meant for me, lanced his skin instead.
He’d been cleaned, dried… but not wrapped. Just as she’d promised. Sure, the priests had attempted the wrapping but upon returning to the tomb each morning, Ravi’s body was mysteriously absent of linen. Without the linen, he cannot rise. Without rising, he cannot complete his quest in the afterlife. He would never be at peace.
But this day was the catalyst for my decision. Upon the waking of Ra, the prince’s body was declared missing from the tomb. And since he hasn’t risen… she has him. She has hidden him.
Now, I was going to find him.
I nodded my head, decided. “This is the way.” I met each of their kohl-rimmed gazes. “You each know your part, correct?” Three distinct nods. “Then do it. Bring the asp.”
Anga, moving slower than the mud from the bathing rooms, reached for the urn at her feet. I gulped as fear caused every hair on my body to stand at attention. Was this how Prince Ravi felt knowing he was soon to draw his last of the air?
The three maidens, my closest of acquaintances, drew near to my couch. “Do it,” I said.
Flixus held her arm out while Anga uncapped the urn and Helter began to hum a seductive tune. At first there was nothing. Just a dark, seemingly empty space where the urn lid was. Then a reptilian nose tested the opening of the container. More and more of the snake protruded. The beady, intelligent eyes, the hooded body, the slithering, forked tongue. Helter continued her tune, the hum growing louder and more persistent as the cobra slinked closer to Flixus’ outstretched limb. Her shaking limb.
“Do not be afraid,” I told her. “I won’t let it harm you.”
Her eyes darted to me and then back to the snake. “It’s not me I fear for, Cleo.”
When the snake was just inches away, when his fangs needed only a tiny dart to enter skin, Helter stopped humming. A strange stillness came over the room, almost hypnotizing. I had the feeling the asp was the only one not already fallen under its spell. But it only lasted a second. For in the next, Anga said, “Now”, and several things occurred all at once.
Helter began clapping, loud and sharp, she and Anga making threatening hissing noises.
My eyes trained on the cobra, I tracked its reaction and knew the moment he would strike.
Flixus held very still. Supernaturally still.
The widening of a hinged jaw. The dart of a scaly, hooded head. The piercing of skin by poison drenched fangs. My skin. My arm. Not Flixus’.
I did it. It worked. I had intercepted the serpents bite. My life for hers.
A noble death that would surely bring me a blessing. A blessing I would need if I am to succeed in my quest.
The poison was quick. Soon it would all be over. I’d find Ravi. Find a way for him to rise. I would take the sorceress’ undeserved curse from him and bring him the peace a noble death warranted.
I felt my muscles becoming numb. It was exceedingly hard to blink. My chest was ice and fire at the same time. Paralyzed. I would be unmoving in moments and gone moments after that.
“Whatever happens,” I murmured to the three sets of tear-filled eyes, “Don’t let me remain unwrapped.”
“Never,” they promised.
I believed them. The next time I blinked was the last time I opened my eyes… alive.
A gazillion and fifty years later…
I glided along the light-lined path that indicated walking space. Most of the ground was dedicated to those who walked since the air was used for transporters and hover craft. They hummed hundreds of feet above me, piercing the would-be night sky with their neon lights. They reminded me of the tomb jewels of ancient days. Current Egypt was nothing like old Egypt. Except for times like this when my mind made some random abstract connection. Maybe too many years had passed and everything was beginning to cycle back around. Maybe neon lights were the new precious and rare. Maybe chrome was the new black.
Just like death was the new life.
I paused, adjusting my wraps. The tattered linen wasn’t holding up well. It resembled a string of rags held together by threads. Sexy. Good thing there was a lot of it. Easier to maneuver it over the important spots. If not for Anga’s charms keeping it somewhat together, I’d surely be naked by now.
“Lookin’ a bit rough there, princess,” Helter smirked, her blue eyes twinkling. A side-effect of all the glowing neon.
I winked. “That’s the idea, right.”
Mummies, just like the other undead, were second class citizens. There were two kinds of dead: the cursed and the blessed. Those who’d died nobly and those who’d died weakly. There were so very few of the blessed left. Mostly the streets were full of the cursed, desperately searching for a way to finish themselves off for good.
But the afterlife wasn’t like that. There was no permanent death. Not anymore.
Through the tragedy of time, the barrier between the living and the dead had blurred to the point of nondistinction. Now the two mixed. Dead among the living. Living among the dead. Stupidly, each pretended the other wasn’t there.
Unfortunately, being one of the blessed didn’t afford me any luxe. Dead was dead. So, my threads were screwed but at least my skin wasn’t falling off like those gods-forsaken zombies from the Americas. Big ups for my Egyptian roots and their knowledge of preservation.
I took a deep breath, hoping it would settle my nerves. What? The undead suffer anxiety too.
“Are we sure about this?” I whispered, not able to make my voice any louder. It was my nervous tick, whispering. And of all the ticks in the world, it was by far the dumbest one.
Flixus nodded. “Like, ninety seven percent sure.”
I rolled my eyes but really, I was thankful their enchantments had made it possible for them to stay with me so long.
“Okay, so… what if he’s not in there? What do I do then?”
Helter, with no expression, had the answer. “Run like hell.”
“How exactly does hell run, Helt?” Anga asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
“It looks very similar to the way you run, ya know, when you’re chasing that not-so-sexy zombie of yours.”
Anga’s eyes narrowed, her mouth forming a line. “He’s not mine. But I will catch him someday. And so help me, when I do…”
I snapped my fingers. “Hey. Focus. Tell me what I need to do.”
Anga sighed. “He’s hidden in a room on the top floor of Kairo Tower. Getting in will be tricky. They might as well have a fire-breathing dragon guarding the door. But don’t worry, we’ve got that covered. Your job is to wake him.”
“Yeah. You know.” She waved her hands in the direction of my face. “You hold the key. Not me. Thank Ra.”
Smartass. I knew what she meant. I just… wasn’t sure it would work. Flix was adamant that my kiss would do the trick. Not because of some stupid love connection—I was raised to fight love and old habits died hard, or not at all—but because it was the key. The key that would unlock the curse. My skeptical stare had resulted in a lengthy explanation about spells and curses and ways to undo them and redo them and updo them. Being that I’m no kind of witch, all I really got from the discussion was the key/lock thing. Curses are essentially locks that bind, in one way or another, a person. A key is needed if you want to free them.
My kiss was Ravi’s key. I didn’t bother asking how they knew it. The details didn’t matter to me.
When we were alive there had never been a kiss. A few close calls when his gaze would enchant me or his touch, so soft, would beguile me. But always, I knew the consequence and never allowed it.
I was above love. Stronger than love. No witch’s curse would catch me falling, that was for sure.
Until his death. His sacrifice.
“But don’t forget,” Anga said, “You have to wrap him first. Or we could have a disaster on our hands.”
“As if we don’t already,” Helter scoffed.
The three of them laughed at that but all I could do was shake my head. They were always finding humor in the not humorous.
“Fine. I need linen.”
Ironically, that stifled their laughter.
“Well, see,” Flix began. “You have to use authentic linen. Same as they did in the old days.”
Wait, she couldn’t just conjure up some fauxcloth? “You mean… the real stuff? That doesn’t exist anymore.”
She nodded, eyeing my rags. “Yes. I’m aware of that.”
“Wait, so… what am I supposed to wrap him with?”
“You’ll have to share yours,” Anga said.
Oh, hell no. “Share? This is my wrap! Anointed specifically for me.” The jewels—the ones I hadn’t had to use yet—that were barely hanging on for dear life were woven into the cloth, chosen carefully for me. And… they were mine. My linen, my jewels, my wrap.
Anga shrugged. “It’s the only available linen. And like you said, already anointed.”
“But it’s mine. And it barely covers me as it is. If I lose anymore…”
“Are you serious?” Helter snapped. “You were willing to die for him. You spend multiple centuries tracking the sorceress and killing her. We are finally, finally minutes away from being done with all this… but you can’t share your freaking wrap with him. You know the rules. He has to be wrapped to rise.”
But. Well. When she put it like that.
I scowled. “Fine. But you better come up with something else to cover my bare ass.”
She rolled her eyes. “Your ass will hardly be bare. You were double wrapped anyway. Someone…” she glanced pointedly at Flix “… had a ‘feeling’ this quest would take ‘awhile’.”
Flix shrugged. “Not my fault. I call it foresight. And if you ask me, it’s rather handy.”
“I call it, you should’ve kept your prophetic mouth shut.”
“Oh, Ra!” Anga exclaimed, “Remember potatoes? Yuummm! Of all the veggies, why did those have to become extinct?”
“Right?” Flix agreed. “French fries!”
Helter’s eyes got round. “And mashed—“
Another round of finger snapping got their attention. “We can talk about food later.” My sunken stomach growled at the mere thought. “Right now, it’s time to finish this.”
Three matching smiles stared back at me as they nodded their agreement.
As usual, Helter, Anga, and Flixus were right. Getting into Kairo Tower had involved the sword and shield of spellcasting. But leave it to the three of them to slay that beast of a security system. Electronics were nothing when you’d lived thousands of years.
The bullet elevator took me to the top floor in five seconds flat and lucky for me, the corridor it opened into was empty. I wasn’t sure what I expected but one thing was for sure. It wasn’t this.
There was one door. Just one. That meant I wouldn’t have to search for him. It also meant if Ravi wasn’t in there, our plan was screwed.
Without another hesitation, I shoved the door open and stepped inside. Immediately, I was taken back to ancient times. The room was pristine white with fluorescent lights but it couldn’t have felt more like the tombs if it had been mud painted and filled with treasure. The scent of age-old unfinished death permeated my nostrils and stung my eyes. But the thing that had my heart stopping and then pounding in my chest was the sculpted coffin that lay on a waist high stainless steel table.
This couldn’t be Ravi. Would they hide him so well, only to leave him in an unlocked room?
My feet took me closer, though I don’t remember how, until I was standing over the painted clay. Painted with Ravi’s face. It wasn’t what he’d actually looked like. He’d had smaller eyes and a wider jaw. But it was him. If his body was inside…
I gasped, trying to take in more air.
After so many years searching… so many years without him…
If I could wake him, if this worked… I could take back my last words. Replace them with something, anything.
With more effort than I expected it to take, I managed to remove the headstone. When I looked down and saw the face I’d been without for so long, I let out a sigh of relief. It was him. I wanted to whoop. Shout. Dance. Smack him. Call him an idiot for doing what he did.
But instead, I just stood there and cried.
Cried for the short time we’d had together and for the massive time we’d spent apart. Cried for his death and mine. Cried for the hate of the sorceress. Cried for the love of the three witches. Cried because my quest was over. Cried, cried, cried until tears streamed down my chin and soaked the top layer of my wrap.
He wasn’t the Ravi I’d once known. The grinning boy was gone. The pale skin I’d loved was shriveled. Tracing a finger across his leathery brow and then down his cheek, I landed on his lips. They weren’t plump as they once were. They were puckered, a lock waiting for its key.
I looked down at myself. Death had changed me too. Though I was clear-eyed and my skin smooth, I’d become slight. Bones protruded where they shouldn’t and too many places on my body were concave. My hair was a mess I couldn’t hope to fix but I remembered a day when it was silky smooth and straight.
Flixus said breaking the curse would help me too. I really hoped she was right.
Pushing back the rest of the stone, I climbed onto the table and started removing some of my wraps. As carefully as I could, I used them to cover Ravi’s body. First his limbs, then his torso, praying the old prayers as I went and hoping like hell this resulted in a blessing. He’d been cursed long enough. For good measure, I pulled a swath of linen that contained my most precious emerald and wrapped it around his neck.
It was done. I sat back and took in the sight. Prince Ravi was wrapped. Finally he could rise. No longer would he go restless. Or… at least he wouldn’t be restless alone. He’d have me and the witches.
For a second, I questioned if this was the right thing. Which was worse, the wrapless sleep Ravi had been sentenced to or the living death I was enduring? But at least my spirit was at peace. Or it would be once I woke him and finished my quest. Ravi’s wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Not until he’d risen.
My key to his lock and the curse would be broken for us both. The sorceress would be defeated for good.
With a deep breath for courage, I braced my hands on the sides of the coffin, leaned in and pressed my wet lips to his dried ones. I kept our mouths pressed together, my eyes squeezed shut, waiting for whatever was supposed to happen to happen.
Then it did.
There was a grunt. A shift. His then mine.
My eyes flew open. His fluttered. Locked on mine.
“Cleopatra,” he breathed—his first undead words.
“You were right,” I said, replacing those ugly last words at last. “I do love you.”
It was true. And now I was free to admit it, to myself and most importantly to him. The breaking I felt inside where my heart no longer beat, was evil being rendered obsolete. I felt the stones from my wrap grow hotter and hotter, filling the once cursed magic with blessings. Ravi’s emerald glowed under my palm and I knew he could feel it too. The curse being broken.
“I’ve waited so long to hear you say that,” he rasped, still unaware of what had happened in his absence.
I grinned. “Indeed. You have no idea. Welcome to the year 2108.”
The magic of love is a curious thing. It’s the key that unlocks any curse, rights any wrong, and defeats any demon. When one dies while sacrificing their life for the sake of another, they live on. It’s the rule of love, and the only rule that can’t ever be broken.
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