The Tomb of Shadows:Seven Wonders 03

By: Peter Lerangis
CHAPTER ONE


THE VALLEY OF KINGS

FOR A DEAD person, my mom looked amazing.

She had a few more gray hairs and wrinkles, which happens after six years, I guess. But her eyes and smile were exactly the same. Even in a cell phone image, those are the things you notice first.

“Jack?” said Aly Black, who was sitting next to me in the backseat of a rented car. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said. Which, honestly, was the biggest lie of my life. “I mean, for someone who’s just discovered his mother faked her own death six years ago.”

From the other side of the car, Cass Williams slid his Coke-bottle glasses down his nose and gave me a pitying glance. Like the rest of us, he was in disguise. “Maybe she wasn’t faking,” he said. “Maybe she survived. And had amnesia. Till now.”

“Survived a fall into a crevasse in Antarctica?” I said.

I shut the phone. I had been looking at that photo nonstop since we escaped the Massa headquarters near the pyramids in Giza. I showed it to everyone back in the Karai Institute, including Professor Bhegad, but I couldn’t stay there. Not while she was here. Now we were returning to Egypt on a search to find her.

The car zipped down the Cairo–Alexandria highway in total silence. I wanted to be happy that Mom was alive. I wanted not to care that she had actually been off with a cult. But I wasn’t and I did. Life had changed for me at age seven into a Before and After. Before was great. After was Dad on business trips all the time, me at home with one lame babysitter after the other, kids talking behind my back. I can count on one finger the number of times I went to a parent-teacher conference with an actual parent.

So I wasn’t woo-hooing the fact that Mom had been hangin’ in a pyramid all this time with the Kings of Nasty. The people who stole our friend Marco and brainwashed him. The people who destroyed an entire civilization. The Slimeballs Whose Names Should Not Be Mentioned but I’ll Do It Anyway. The Massa.

I turned back to the window, where the hot, gray-tan buildings of Giza raced by.

“Almost there,” Torquin grunted. As he took the exit off the ring road, the right tires lifted off the ground and the left tires screeched. Aly and Cass slid into my side, and I nearly dropped the phone. “Ohhhh . . .” groaned Cass.

“Um, Torquin?” Aly called out. “That left pedal? It’s a brake.”

Torquin was nodding his head, pleased with the maneuver. “Very smooth suspension. Very expensive car.”

“Very nauseated passenger,” Cass mumbled.

Torquin was the only person who could make a Lincoln Town Car feel like a ride with the Flintstones. He is also the only person I know who is over seven feet tall and who never wears shoes.

“Are you okay, Cass?” Aly asked. “Are you going to barf?”

“Don’t say that,” Cass said. “Just hearing the word barf makes me want to barf.”

“But you just said barf,” Aly pointed out.

“Gluurb,” went Cass.

I rolled down a window.

“I’m fine,” Cass said, taking deep, gulping breaths. “Just . . . f-f-fine.”

Torquin slowed way down. I felt Aly’s hand touching mine. “You’re nervous. Don’t be. I’m glad we’re doing this. You were right to convince Professor Bhegad to let us, Jack.”

Her voice was soft and gentle. She wore a gauzy, orangey dress with a head covering, and contact lenses that turned her blue eyes brown. I hated these disguises, especially mine, which included a dumb baseball cap that had a ponytail sewn into the back. But after escaping the Massa a couple of days earlier and creating a big scene in town, we couldn’t risk being recognized. “I’m not Jack McKinley,” I said. “I’m Faisal.”

Aly smiled. “We’ll get through this, Faisal. We’ve been through worse.”

Worse? Maybe she meant being whisked away from our homes to an island in the middle of nowhere. Or learning we’d inherited a gene that would give us superpowers but kill us by age fourteen. Or being told that the only way to save our lives would be to find seven magic Atlantean orbs hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—six of which don’t exist anymore. Or battling an ancient griffin, or being betrayed by our friend Marco, or watching a parallel world be destroyed.

I don’t know if any of them qualified as worse than what we were about to do.

Cass was taking rhythmic deep breaths. His floppy white hat was smashed over his ears, and his glasses were distorting his eyes. In the lenses, I saw a mirror image of my own disguise, the hat and ponytail, my left cheek decorated with a fake birthmark like a small cockroach. Torquin had been forced to dye his hair black. His ponytail was so thick it looked like a possum attached to his neck. He still wouldn’t wear shoes, so Professor Bhegad had had someone paint fake sandals on his feet. You’d be amazed how real that looked.

“You think your mom might have some motion sickness meds?” Cass asked.

“Let’s make sure she’s real first,” I said. “Then we’ll take care of the other stuff.”

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