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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 22:
A Sinking Feeling

From where they had retreated, they could just see the statue around the bend. Its golden eyes shone and the huge dog's head almost seemed to grin at them. The knife glowed and the serpent's head appeared ready to spring at them. The statue was facing them once again!

It couldn't be - it had been facing them when they had approached it from the other direction. And statues don't move. At least they normally don't move.

Charlie was the first to speak. He whispered in a trembling voice, as though the statue might hear him, "How did that statue turn around?"

"It's like it knows we're here," said Alice, "and now we're trapped."

Charlie said, "It's just a statue," but his voice was unsure.

"If it can turn around, then it can move its arm and kill us with its knife," stammered Alice.

"But we have to go by it to get out of here," said George.

"You go by it -- I'll find another way out," replied Alice.

"There is no other way out, we've been to the end of this corridor." Charlie said flatly, adding, "I'll go first."

George and Alice looked at each with astonishment. Charlie said to George, "You shine the light on the side by the knife - that's the only place we can squeeze by."

Charlie slowly approached the enormous, menacing statue. His heart was beating so loudly that he thought the others might be able hear it. George and Alice were right behind him, but they were too scared to think of anything but the statue.

Charlie paused about 4 feet from the statue, then continued up to it. He went up to the left side of the statue, and started to squeeze between the statue's leg and the corridor wall. As he was lifting his leg over the statue's knee, Charlie's head knocked the arm of the statue. The huge arm with the knife began to move upward, and Charlie froze, staring at it in horror.

George and Alice both gasped as they saw what was happening. The arm holding the knife was moving upwards. As it began to move, a loud, grinding sound came from the corridor right next to Charlie. A large block of sandstone - a door - was slowly swinging away from Charlie. The arm stopped moving when the door was fully opened, and Charlie quickly went through the door and away from the knife that was now directly over his head.

George tried to shine the light through the doorway, but all they could see was stairs leading downwards. Charlie called to George and Alice, "Maybe we should try going this way."

Alice agreed, "Yes, that's much better than going all the way around the statue." She quickly joined Charlie, and George followed.

As George was walking by the statue towards Charlie and Alice, he kept his eyes on the statue and shone his light back onto it. He almost fell backwards down the stairs as he solved the mystery of the moving statue.

"Look at the statue," yelled George, "it has a face on both sides -- it didn't move at all!"

Charlie and Alice were stunned and relieved. It had been unnerving to think that menacing statues could sense your presence. Charlie took the flashlight from George and said, "Let's see what's down this corridor." Alice and George walked beside Charlie down the huge, stone stairway. The light revealed only more stairs and a long, dark hall ahead of them.

They were surprised and almost lost their balance as they stepped on the sixth stair -- it sank a few inches when they stood on it. A grinding noise began, and the door behind them slammed shut with a deep thud. The noise stopped.

The kids ran back up the stairs and tried the door, but they couldn't open it. George said frantically, "Maybe if we go on that step again, it will open."

They tried George's suggestion, but the stairs were solid under their feet now - none of them moved. "Well, I guess we have to go forwards now," said Charlie. So they continued down the gloomy stairs.

Soon, the stairs ended and there was a short, level passage in front of them. After a few feet of level ground, another stone staircase led upwards. The kids walked up the stairs, but the steps ended abruptly and left Charlie, George, and Alice facing a blank stone wall. "This must be a secret door," said Alice.

"I sure hope so," replied Charlie, "but how do we get it open?"

George laughed half-heartedly and said, "Open Sesame." Although no one expected it to have an effect, they looked at the wall intently anyway.

When the stone wall didn't move, Charlie said, "Let's try pushing it." They all pushed together using their shoulders, but the stone wouldn't budge,

Charlie said, "Let's try the stairs and see if any of them move."

"We've already walked on all of the stairs, Charlie," Alice replied.

"Maybe we have to be together on a step for there to be enough weight to get it to move." said George. "Let's start at the top step and go down one step at a time."

They tried George's idea on each step, but none of them moved, or did anything at all.

"It look like we're trapped," said Alice.

Suddenly, a loud clicking sound came from from below them, and they realized that the staircase was sinking beneath their feet. The vibrations made it hard to stand up, and the three friends held onto each other to keep from falling down.

Charlie shone his light down to the floor below the stairs, but the floor was heading downwards too. The entire room was sinking. They could do nothing but wait for the motion to stop.

After a few minutes, the noise and movement stopped. They had dropped at least 20 feet. The kids looked around to see what else had changed. They headed back up the stairs, but a solid slab of stone still greeted them at the top, and it still wouldn't move. They walked down the stairs together to see if any of the steps would trigger another mechanism, but they didn't move at all. The kids were back at the level passage between the staircases, and weren't sure what to do.

Alice said, "Let's try these stairs," pointing to the original stairs they had taken when entering this room. Charlie shone his flashlight up the staircase, but it looked identical to the one they had just come from - there was a stone slab at the top of the stairs.

"Okay," said Charlie, and the boys climbed the stairs at her side. After a few steps, they felt a stair give way a few inches beneath their feet, and a clicking sound began. The stone at the top of the stairs swung inward, revealing a doorway, and the clicking sound stopped.

"Excellent," said Charlie. The three friends sprinted through the door, very happy to escape from that eerie room.

Charlie's flashlight revealed a small, rough-hewn corridor of very dark stone, unlike any that they had been in today. The rock was jagged and hardly carved at all. The floor sloped steeply upward -- it was almost like walking up a set of stairs.

They weren't very surprised when a rock beneath Charlie gave way a few inches, and the door slammed shut behind them. "Not this again," said Charlie.

"This had better not be a dead end," replied George.

As they began to struggle through the passage, Charlie said, "This doesn't look very promising. The rocks are jagged and corridor is barely carved. No one put a lot of care into this section of the pyramid. It's probably not the way to the mummy."

Alice disagreed, "Didn't the Egyptians hide the King's chamber so that looters wouldn't disturb it? They might make the way to the pharaoh's mummy look like an unimportant area."

"I guess so," answered George, but he thought that this would lead nowhere. As they continued, the walls and ceiling got even rougher, and the floor got steeper. They noticed a terrible stale smell that was getting stronger as they walked.

As they rounded a curve, Charlie stumbled on something that was on the floor and he almost fell. He shone the flashlight down at his feet and saw that he had tripped over a person who was slumped on the floor.

Charlie looked a little closer and got a sick, sinking feeling in his stomach. Maggots were wriggling out of the person's skin.

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