“Allison, unlock this,” Seth whispered, with his mouth perched where the door and frame met. “I’m worried.” He jiggled the crystal doorknob. “Actually, I’m getting a bit annoyed.” He pulled back. “Staying in there all day isn’t healthy.”
He pressed his shoulder against the mahogany door. He had always loved the Art Deco building where they lived, but he wondered if he possessed enough strength to bust the solid wooden slab open. Seth tried the knob again, but it remained locked. “Allison?”
The key clicked in the latch, and his wife slipped through a narrow opening. “Shh, he’s asleep.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry.” Allison buried her face against his chest. “I struggled so hard to bring him into this world.”
Seth kissed her forehead. “Because you refused the epidural.”
She pushed away. “I felt him, every day, growing inside me. I do now, except the physical distance between us…hurts.”
“I get it,” he said, but they both understood he didn’t. Not really. “Come here.” Seth drew her in an embrace and spoke into her ear, “Remember?”
Allison knew what he meant. She glanced back into the baby’s room and spotted the statue basking in a stream of hallway light. She closed the nursery door. “You’re making me blush.”
Seth’s eyebrows raised. “But you remember? Oh, tell me you remember, because I’ll never forget. You were so…”
“Seth!” She scolded but smiled at the memory of having purchased a fertility goddess less than a year ago. On a whim, she had darted into a local occult shop. Allison had told the woman she needed something, anything to help her become pregnant.
Venus had been the clerk’s suggestion. But the short, pudgy nude in the woman’s hands hadn’t exactly inspired an amorous mood in Allison. Instead, she bought the alabaster figure of a sexy, Egyptian-like female. She never asked who it was because she liked the way it made her feel.
“Yes.” Her cheeks flushed with warmth. “I recall every sordid detail.”
Her husband was right. They had conceived their child on that same night. Once confirmed, Allison placed the goddess in the nursery while they waited the nine months for Timothy’s birth. Each morning, she thanked the figurine for keeping the baby safe another night. Even now, Allison feared for his wellbeing. So, she kept the statue in its rightful place overlooking Timothy’s crib.
Allison turned to reenter the nursery.
“One night.” Seth took her hand, and she paused. “A couple of hours. I promise.”
After two months home with the baby, Seth encouraged, no, he demanded they take some of their lives back. So, he invited their best friends, Bill and Joan, for dinner. Allison didn’t want visitors or unnecessary germs, but their friends were coming over—tonight.
Seth assured her everything would be fine. He had ordered carry-out and reminded her the delivery could show up any minute.
The doorbell rang. She grabbed the nursery’s doorknob.
“No, I’ll check on the baby. You answer the door.”
“Go on.” He encouraged her movement with a sweep of his hands. “Get your feet wet.” Seth grinned and disappeared into Timothy’s room.
The bell rang again. Allison smoothed her bangs and straightened her shirt. Ill-prepared for this, she answered the door.
The man from 2B stood outside their entry.
“Oh,” she said, puzzled by his visit. “I’m sorry.” She gave a nervous laugh and pointed at her head. “Baby brain. I’m afraid I have forgotten your name.”
“Professor Warrin Asim.” He craned his neck to peek inside.
“Can I help you, Professor?”
“Is your baby alright?”
All color drained from Allison’s face. She shouldn’t have left her baby’s side. If anything happened, she’d never forgive herself. She whipped around to race to the nursery as a loud crash arose from the same direction. “Timmy?”
“It was me.” Seth bounded into the living room like he had been shot from a cannon. “I’m okay,” he huffed. As he approached his wife, he realized her concern was not for him. “The baby’s fine.”
Professor Asim stepped inside. “There is trouble here.”
“Trouble? What do you mean?” Seth asked.
“I’m aware we aren’t acquainted.” He shook Seth’s hand. “I have an uncanny knack for detecting shifts in energy.”
“What are you talking about?” Allison looked at her husband. “Seth, what is he talking about?”
“I think you need to leave.” Seth took a step forward. “My wife is anxious enough about our dinner guest. When she finds out I knocked her goddess from the shelf, well…”
Allison’s eye flashed from surprise to anger and settled in fear. “Is she broken?”
“The base fell off, but I can glue it back as good as new.” He gave her an awkward smile. “This has been very… strange. So, thank you.” Seth gestured for the man to take his leave.
The professor didn’t budge. “Which goddess?”
“I’m not sure,” Allison said. “A fertility one.”
“Go. Retrieve this, now,” Professor Asim demanded.
Seth glanced at Allison, and she glared back. “Fine.” He retrieved the effigy and handed it over to the professor to examine. “The bottom part lines right up. Should be an easy fix.”
“This isn’t a base. This is an Egyptian vessel and its lid.”
“An Egyptian vessel? Like a canopic jar?” Fascinated, Seth moved nearer to the man for closer investigation.
The professor wiggled the container, and something rattled inside. He poured a small, blackish-red object out on his palm. “Definitely not the typical canopic.”
Allison’s face scrunched in disgust. “Is that a mummy’s organ?”
“Yeah, I remember this from a show,” Seth chirped. “The brain, liver, and bowels are put in jars for the afterlife.”
“This is the heart,” the professor said.
“No,” Seth spoke with confidence. “The heart stays in the body to be weighed in judgment.”
“Not if you plan to trap the entity’s soul. This unfortunate mummy never made it to the afterlife. She was cursed.” He planted the hardened clump back in the receptacle and replaced the lid.
Hieroglyphs carved near the cracked wax seal presented two geometric spirals set adjacent to one another. Wavy lines existed beneath both, but the one on the right had a mound drawn below it as well. He read, “Queen Henhenet, consort of Mentuhotep II.”
“Who?” Allison glanced around like something insidious waited.
“A Priestess of Hathor who died in childbirth.”
“Why would someone prevent her from crossing over?” Allison couldn’t imagine any reasonable answer.
He rubbed his forehead. “There is a legend that the gods give the woman a child’s soul during childbirth. The mother breathes the spirit into her baby as she speaks to her infant for the first time. This act of transference binds them forever.”
Allison neared panic. “You said she died. What happened to her child?”
“According to the story, both were lost. If Henhenet passed before she relocated the baby’s spirit, she still possesses her child’s soul.” He spun toward Seth and held the goddess up. “What did you see when you broke this open?”
Seth stared at his wife and their peculiar neighbor. He recalled the rush of cold air in the nursery seconds after the statue fell, the dust-like substance that whirled up and stank of rotten meat, and his attempt to screw the base back on the figure. “Nothing. I picked the thing up and put it back. Everything was fine.”
Another crash resounded from the nursery.
Allison bolted toward the nursery. “Timothy?”
Seth trailed behind.
She cracked the door and peered inside. A pair of glowing eyes greeted her. Something jumped on the crib’s rail and growled.
Allison fell back against Seth. “What is that?”
“I-I don’t know,” he said.
The thing jumped down, and Seth slammed the door before it reached them.
“Is that our baby?” Allison cried.
Professor Asim stood at the end of the hallway with an emptied rattan basket in his hands. A pile of magazines lay in the living room where he dumped them. “That creature isn’t your son.”
“Creature?” Allison said.
Scratches drew their full attention back to the nursery. The door heaved as the tiny being flung its weight against the door like a battering ram.
“It’s going to burst through any second.” Seth stepped backward and moved away from his wife and away from his son’s room.
Allison walked toward the door. “I don’t care who she is. I won’t let her hurt my son.”
“No!” the professor moaned.
Before she reached Timothy’s room, the door yanked open, and the tiny creature soared out.
The baby monster staggered toward them. His features like leather. Tanned by time into a deep russet-colored hide like a body mummified in a bog or buried in ice. Drool swung from his little mummy lips, and a thick blackness oozed from his bulging, dried-up eyes.
The professor lunged forward and flung the basket. It landed as planned and caged their demonic son inside. “This won’t hold him for long.”
Allison rushed to the nursery. Inside, the air swirled in a tornadic rage, which caused her eyes to tear and blurred her vision. She fought through the squall and crossed the room. The crib was empty.
Seth gawped at the fierce imp’s jagged teeth as they gnawed at the rattan. Tiny, monstrous fingers clawed between the intertwined reeds. Seth shuddered. “Allison?” He shouted into the nursery as he held his arms out to catch her. “Let go.”
She released the crib’s rail and flew across the room. Henhenet’s horrid face materialized in the storm before Allison. They locked eyes, and the woman’s mummy mouth gaped as she let out a hideous scream.
Seth caught Allison at the waist and swung her around before the door crashed shut. “Don’t look, Allison.” He placed his hand across her eyes and lead her down the hall. At first, she resisted. She wanted to see but didn’t want to.
The creature plunged within the upside-down basket. Terrified, Seth collapsed to the wall, and a picture knocked from its hook. The baby gave a grisly giggle as the glass shattered.
“Hurry,” the professor said. He switched his hands back and forth. No matter where he held the woven contraption down, the creature tried to bite him.
Allison sobbed as Seth slid them against the wall past the demon.
“Now what?” Seth begged of the man.
“I’m not sure.”
The nursery door tore open. Henhenet’s spirit converged into a near-solid form. Her ghastly shape hovered above the floor and barreled their way.
“What does she want from us?”
“To reunite with her child, and she needs two human forms.”
“She’s not taking my baby!” Allison pushed past her husband and knocked the professor to the side.
The basket tipped over, and Timothy waddled out.
Henhenet spoke an unrecognizable mutter. The child froze.
“You can’t have him!” Allison yelled. “I birthed him! He’s mine!” She reached down to grab her son, demon, or not.
The grisly specter roared with a trumpet’s blare straight for Allison.
Allison cleaved her son to her chest and thundered a scream back at mummy’s ghost. Henhenet crashed into Allison and evaporated. She didn’t pass through, she disappeared. Allison was knocked flat on the floor as the spirit concealed herself within the shroud of Allison’s corporeal form.
“What the hell was that?” Seth asked. He rushed to his wife’s aid.
“Be careful,” the professor said. “We don’t know what happened to Henhenet.”
Seth helped Allison to her feet. She gazed at her husband like it was the first time she had ever seen his face. Timothy started crying.
“There, there,” Allison consoled her perfect and normal child. The baby cooed.
Seth consulted the professor with his eyes. The man shrugged and shook his head. He had no answers for why they both appeared unharmed. He could only speculate Henhenet and her child reunited in the guise of Seth’s wife and son.
“Hello,” Joan said as she and Bill entered the apartment. “We’re here on the right night, aren’t we?”
“Yeah,” Seth said, still in shock. “Everything’s fine.