Once, for about a month or two, I decided I was going to be a different kind of guy. Muscley. Not always thinking so much. My body was going to be a temple, not a dive bar. The kitchen made me smoothies, raw eggs blended with kale and wheat germ and bee pollen. That sort of thing. I stopped drinking, flushed all of Darius’s goodies down the toilet. I was civil to my Face. I went running. I read the books, did the homework my tutor assigned. I was a model son, a good brother. The Olds didn’t know what to think.
[Hero], of course, knew something was up. Twins always know. Maybe she saw the way I watched her Face when there was an event and we all had to do the public thing.
Meanwhile, I could see the way that [Hero]‘s Face looked at my Face. There was no way that this was going to end well. So I gave up on raw eggs and virtue and love. Fell right back into the old life, the high life, the good, sweet, sour, rotten old life. Was it much of a life? It had its moments.
“Oh shit,” [Hero] says. “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. Help me, [ ]. Help me, please?”
She drops the snake. I step hard on its head. Nobody here is having a good night.
“You have to give me the code,” I say. “Give me the code and I’ll go get help.”
She bends over and pukes stale champagne on my shoes. There are two drops of blood on her arm. “It hurts,” she says. “It hurts really bad.”
“Give me the code, [Hero].”
She cries for a while, and then she stops. She won’t say anything. She just sits and rocks. I stroke her hair, and ask her for the code. When she doesn’t give it to me, I go over and start trying numbers. I try our birthday. I try a lot of numbers. None of them work.
I chased the same route every day for that month. Down through the woods at the back of the guesthouse, into the Valley of the Girls just as the sun was coming up. That’s how you ought to see the pyramids, you know. With the sun coming up. I liked to take a piss at the foot of [Alicia]‘s pyramid. Later on I told [Alicia] I pissed on her pyramid. “Marking your territory, [ ]?” she said. She ran her fingers through my hair.
I don’t love [Alicia]. I don’t hate [Alicia]. Her Face had this plush, red mouth. Once I put a finger up against her lips, just to see how they felt. You’re not supposed to mess with people’s Faces, but everybody I know does it. What’s the Face going to do? Quit?
But [Alicia] had better legs. Longer, rounder, the kind you want to die between. I wish she were here right now. The sun is up, but it isn’t going to shine on me for a long time. We’re down here in the cold, and [Hero] isn’t speaking to me.
What is it with rich girls and pyramids anyway?
In hieroglyphs, you put the names of the important people, kings and queens and gods, in a cartouche. Like this.
“Were you really going to do it?” [Hero] wants to know. This is before the snake, before I know what she’s up to.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Why not?” I say. “Lots of reasons. ‘Why’ is kind of a dumb question, isn’t it? I mean, why did God make me so pretty? Why size four jeans?”
There’s a walk-in closet in the burial chamber. I went through it looking for something useful. Anything useful. Silk shawls, crushed velvet dresses, black jeans. A stereo system loaded with the kind of music rich goth girls listen to. Extra pillows. Sterling silver. Perfumes, makeup. A mummified cat. [Noodles.] I remember when [Noodles] died. We were eight. They were already laying the foundations of [Hero]‘s pyramid. The Olds called in the embalmers.
We helped with the natron. I had nightmares for a week.
[Hero] says, “They’re for the afterlife, okay?”
“You’re not going to be fat in the afterlife?” At this point, I still don’t know [Hero]‘s plan, but I’m starting to worry. [Hero] has a taste for the epic. I suppose it runs in the family.
“My Ba is skinny,” [Hero] says. “Unlike you, [ ]. You may be skinny on the outside, but you have a fat-ass heart. Anubis will judge you. Ammit will devour you.”
She sounds so serious. I should laugh. You try laughing when you’re down in the dark, in your sister’s secret burial chamber—not the decoy one where everybody hangs out and drinks, where once, oh god, how sweet is that memory, still, you and your sister’s Face did it on the memorial stone—under three hundred thousand limestone blocks, down at the bottom of a shaft behind a door in an antechamber that maybe, somebody, in a couple of hundred years, will stumble into.
What kind of afterlife do you get to have as a mummy? If you’re [Hero], I guess you believe your Ba and Ka will reunite in the afterlife. [Hero] thinks she’s going to be an Akh, an immortal. She and the rest of them go around stockpiling everything they think they need to have an excellent afterlife. They’re rich. The Olds indulge them. It’s just the girls. The girls plan for the afterlife. The boys play sports, collect race cars or 20th century space shuttles, scheme to get laid. I specialize in the latter.
The girls have ushabti made of themselves, give them to each other at the pyramid dedication ceremonies, the sweet sixteen parties. They collectshabti of their favorite singers, actors, whatever. They read The Book of the Dead. In the meantime, their pyramids are where we go to have a good time. When I commissioned the artist who makes my ushabti, I had her make two different kinds. One is for people I don’t know well. The othershabti for the girls I’ve slept with. I modeled for that one in the nude. If I’m going to hang out with these girls in the afterlife, I want to have all my working parts.
Me, I’ve done some reading, too. What happens once you’re a mummy? Graverobbers dig you up. Sometimes they grind you up and sell you as medicine, fertilizer, pigment. People used to have these mummy parties. Invite their friends over and unwrap a mummy. See what’s inside.
Maybe you end up in a display case in a museum. Or nobody ever finds you. Or your curse kills lots of people. I know which one I’m hoping for.
“[ ],” [Yumiko] said, “I don’t want this thing to be boring. Fireworks and Faces, celebrities promoting their new thing.”
This was earlier.
Once [Yumiko] and I did it in [Angela]‘s pyramid, right in front of a false door. Another time she punched me in the side of the face because she caught me and [Preeti] in bed. Gave me a cauliflower ear.
[Yumiko]‘s pyramid isn’t quite as big as [Stevie]‘s, or even [Preeti]‘s pyramid. But it’s on higher ground. From up on top, you can see down to the ocean.
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked her.
“Just do something,” [Yumiko] said.
I had an idea right away.
“Let me out, [Hero].”
We came down here with a bottle of champagne. [Hero] asked me to open it. By the time I had the cork out, she’d shut the door. No handle. Just a key pad.
“Eventually you’re going to have to let me out, [Hero].”
“Do you remember the watermelon game?” [Hero] says. We’re reminiscing about the good old times. I think. She’s lying on a divan. She lit a couple of oil lamps when she brought me down here. We were going to have a serious talk. Only it turned out it wasn’t about what I thought it was about. It wasn’t about the sex tape. It was about the other thing.
“It’s really cold down here,” I say. “I’m going to catch a cold.”
“Tough,” [Hero] says.
I pace a bit. “The watermelon game. With [Vyvian]‘s unicorn?” [Vyvian] is twice as rich as God. She’s a year younger than us, but her pyramid is three times the size of [Hero]‘s. She kisses like a fish, fucks like a wildebeest, and her hobby is breeding chimeras. Most of the estates around here have a real problem with unicorns now, thanks to [Vyvian]. They’re territorial. You don’t mess with them in mating season. I came up with this variation on French bullfighting, Taureux Piscine, except with unicorns. You got a point every time you and the unicorn were in the swimming pool together. We did Licorne Pasteque, too. Brought out a sidetable and a couple of chairs and set them up on the lawn. Cut up the watermelon and took turns. You can eat the watermelon, but only while you’re sitting at the table. Meanwhile the unicorn is getting more and more pissed off that you’re in its territory.
It was insanely awesome until the stupid unicorn broke its leg going into the pool, and somebody had to come and put a bullet in its head. Plus, the Olds got mad about one of the chairs. The unicorn splintered the back. Turned out to be an antique. Priceless.
“Do you remember how [Vyvian] cried and cried?” [Hero] says. Even this is part of the happy memory for [Hero]. She hates [Vyvian]. Why? Some boring reason. I forget the specifics. Here’s the gist of it: [Hero] is fat. [Vyvian] is mean.
“I felt sorrier for whoever was going to have to clean up the pool,” I say.
“Liar,” [Hero] says. “You’re a sociopath. You’ve never felt sorry for anyone in your life. You were going to kill all of our friends. I’m doing the world a huge favor.”
“They aren’t your friends,” I say. “I don’t know why you’d want to save a single one of them.”
[Hero] says nothing. Her eyes get pink.
I say, “They’ll find us eventually.” We’ve both got implants, of course. Implants to keep the girls from getting pregnant, to make us puke if we try drugs or take a drink. There are ways to get around this. Darius is always good for new solutions. The implant—the Entourage—is also a way for our parents’ security teams to monitor us. In case of kidnappers. In case we go places that are off limits, or run off. Rich people don’t like to lose their stuff.
“This chamber has some pretty interesting muffling qualities,” [Hero] says. “I installed the hardware myself. Top-gear spy stuff. You know, just in case.”
“In case of what?” I ask.
She ignores that. “Also, I paid a guy for fifteen hundred microdot trackers. Seven hundred and fifty have your profile. Seven hundred and fifty have mine. They’re programmed to go on and offline in random clusters, at irregular intervals, for the next three months, starting about two hours ago, when you were setting up your video feeds on Tara and Philip.
“Who?” I say.
“Your Face and my Face,” [Hero] says. “You freak.” She turns bright red, and now there are tears in her eyes, but her voice stays calm. “Anyway. The trackers are being distributed to partygoers at raves worldwide tonight. They’re glued onto promotional material inside a CD for one of my favorite bands. Nobody you’d know. Oh, and all the guests at [Yumiko]‘s party got one too, and I left a CD at all of the false doors at all of the pyramids, like offerings. Those are all live right now.”
I’ve always been the good-looking one. The popular one. The smart one. Sometimes I forget that [Hero] is as smart as I am. Maybe even smarter.
“I love you, [ ].”
[Liberty] falls in love all the time. But I was curious. I said, “You love me? Why do you love me?”
She thought about it for a minute. “Because you’re insane,” she said. “You don’t care about anything.”
“That’s why you love me?” I said. We were at a gala or something. We’d just come back from the Men’s room where everybody was trying out Darius’s new drug.
My Face was hanging out with my parents in front of all the cameras. The Olds love my Face. The son they wish they had. Somebody with a tray walked by and [Hero]‘s Face took a glass of champagne. She was over by the buffet table. The other buffet table, the one for Faces and the Olds and the celebrities and the publicists and all the other tribes and hangers on.
My darling. My working girl. My sister’s Face. I tried to catch her eye, clowning in my latex leggings, but I was invisible. Every gesture, every word was for them, for him. The cameras. My Face. And me? A speck of nothing. Not even a blot. Negative space.
She’d said we couldn’t see each other any more. She said she was afraid of getting caught breaking contract. Like that didn’t happen all the time. Like with Mr. Amandit. [Preeti] and [Nishi]‘s father. He left his wife. It was [Liberty]‘s Face he left his wife for. The Face of his daughters’ best friend. I think they’re in Iceland now, Mr. Amandit and the nobody girl who used to be a Face.
Then there’s [Stevie]. Everybody knows she’s in love with her own Face. It’s embarrassing to watch.
Anyway, nobody knew about us. I was always careful. Even if [Hero] got her nose in, what was she going to say? What was she going to do?
“I love you because you’re you, [ ],” [Liberty] said. “You’re the only person I know who’s better looking than their own Face.”
I was holding a skewer of chicken. I almost stabbed it into [Liberty]‘s arm before I knew what I was doing. My mouth was full of chewed chicken. I spat it out at [Liberty]. It landed on her cheek.
“What the fuck, [ ]!” [Liberty] said. The piece of chicken plopped down onto the floor. Everybody was staring. Nobody took a picture. I didn’t exist. Nobody had done anything wrong.
Aside from that, we all had a good time. Even [Liberty] says so. That was the time all of us showed up in this gear I found online. Red rubber, plenty of pointy stuff, chains and leather, dildos and codpieces, vampire teeth and plastinated viscera. I had a really nice pair of hand-painted latex tits wobbling around like epaulets on my shoulders. I had an inadequately sedated fruit bat caged up in my pompadour. So how could she not look at me?
Kids today, the Olds say. What can you do?
I may be down here for some time. I’m going to try to see it the way they see it, the Olds.
You’re an Old. So you think, wouldn’t it be easier if your children did what they were told? Like your employees? Wouldn’t it be nice, at least when you’re out in public with the family? The Olds are rich. They’re used to people doing what they’re told to do.
When you’re as rich as the Olds are, you are your own brand. That’s what the publicists are always telling them. Your children are an extension of your brand. They can improve your Q rating or they can degrade it. Mostly they can degrade it. So there’s the device they implant that makes us invisible to cameras. It’s called an Entourage.
And then there’s the Face. Who is a nobody, a real person, who comes and takes your place at the table. They get an education, the best health care, a salary, all the nice clothes and all the same toys that you get. They get your parents whenever the publicists decide there’s a need or an opportunity. If you go online, or turn on the TV, there they are, being you. Being better than you will ever be at being you. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you have to be careful, or you’ll start to feel very strange. Is that really you?
But it isn’t just about the brand, or having good children who do what they’re told, right? The Olds say it’s about kidnappers, blackmailers, all those people who want to take away what belongs to the Olds. Faces mitigate the risk.
Most politicians have Faces too. For safety. Because it shouldn’t matter what someone looks like, or how good they are at making a speech, but of course it does. The difference is that politicians choose to have their Faces. They choose.
The Olds like to say it’s because we’re children. We’ll understand when we’re older, when we start our adult lives without blemish, without online evidence of our indiscretions, our mistakes. No sex tapes. No embarrassing photos of ourselves in Nazi regalia, or topless in Nice, or honeytraps. No footage before the nose job, before the boob job, before the acne clears up.
The Olds get us into good colleges, and then the world tilts just for a moment, and maybe we fall off. We get a few years to make our own mistakes, out in the open, and then we settle down, and we come into our millions or billions or whatever. We inherit the earth, like that proverb says. The rich shall inherit the earth.
We get married, merge our money with other money, millions or billions, improve our Q ratings, become Olds, acquire kids, and you bet your ass those kids are going to have Faces, just like we did.
I never got into the Egyptian thing the way the girls did. I always liked the Norse gods better. You know, Loki. The slaying of Baldur. Ragnarok.
It wasn’t hard to get hold of the thing I was looking for. Darius couldn’t help me, but he knew a guy who knew a guy who knew exactly what I was talking about. We met in Las Vegas, because why not? We saw a show together, and then we went online and watched a video that had been filmed in his lab. Somewhere in Moldova, he said. He said his name was Nikolay.
I showed him my video. The one I’d made for the party for [Yumiko]‘s pyramid dedication thingy.
We were both very drunk. I’d taken Darius’s blocker, and he was interested in that. I explained about the Entourage, how you had to work around it if you wanted to have fun. He was sympathetic.
He liked the video a lot.
“That’s me,” I told him. “That’s [ ].”
“Not you,” he said. “You’re making joke at me. You have Entourage device. But, girl, she is very nice. Very sexy.”
“That’s my sister,” I said. “My twin sister.”
“Another joke,” Nikolay said. “But, if my sister, I would go ahead, fuck her anyway.”
“How could you do this to me?” [Hero] wants to know.
“It had nothing to do with you.” I pat her back when she starts to cry. I don’t know whether she’s talking about the sex tape or the other thing.
“It was bad enough when you slept with her,” she says, weeping. “That was practically incest. But I saw the tape. The one you gave [Yumiko]. The one she’s going to put up online. Don’t you understand? She’s me. He’s you. That’s us, on that tape, that’s us having sex.”
“It was good enough for the Egyptians,” I say, trying to console her. “Besides, it isn’t us. Remember? They aren’t us.”
I try to remember what it was like when it was just us. The Olds say we slept in the same crib. We had our own language. [Hero] cried when I fell down. [Hero] has always been the one who cries.
“How did you know what I was planning?”
“Oh, please, [ ],” [Hero] says. “I always know when you’re about to go off the deep end. You go around with this smile on your face, like the whole world is sucking you off. Besides, Darius told me you’d been asking about really bad shit. He likes me, you know. He likes me much better than you.”
“He’s the only one,” I say.
“Fuck you,” [Hero] says. “Anyway, it’s not like you were the only one with plans for tonight. I’m sick of this place. Sick of these people.”
There is a martial line of shabti on a stone shelf. Our friends. People who would like to be our friends. Rock stars that the Olds used to hang out with, movie stars. Saudi princes who like fat, gloomy girls with money. She picks up a prince, throws it against the wall.
“Fuck [Vyvienne] and all her unicorns,” [Hero] says.
She picks up another shabti. “Fuck [Yumiko].”
I take [Yumiko] from her. “I did,” I say. “I give her a three out of five. For enthusiasm.” I drop the shabti on the floor.
“You are such a slut, [ ],” [Hero] says. “Have you ever been in love? Even once?”
She’s fishing. She knows. My heart is broken, and [Hero] knows. Is that how it works?
Why did you sleep with him? Are you in love with him? He’s me. Why aren’t I him? Fuck both of you.
“Fuck our parents,” I say. I pick up the oil lamp and throw it at the shabtion the shelf.
The room gets brighter for a moment, then darker.
“It’s funny,” [Hero] says. “We used to do everything together. And then we didn’t. And right now, it’s weird. You planning on doing what you were going to do. And me, what I was planning. It’s like we were in each other’s brains again.”
“You went out and bought a biological agent? We should have gone in on it together. Buy two and get one free.”
“No,” [Hero] says. She looks shy, like she’s afraid I’ll laugh at her.
I wait. Eventually she’ll tell me what she needs to tell me, and then I’ll hand over the little metal canister that Nikolay gave me, and she’ll unlock the door to the burial chamber. Then we’ll go back up into the world, and that video won’t be the end of the world. It will just be something that people talk about. Something to make the Olds crazy.
“I was going to kill myself,” [Hero] says. “You know, down here. I was going to come down here during the party, and then I decided that I didn’t want to do it by myself.”
My heart is broken, and so [Hero] wants to die. Is that how it works?
“And then I found out what you were up to,” [Hero] says. “I thought I ought to stop you. Then I wouldn’t have to be alone. And I would finally live up to my name. I’d save everybody. Even if they never knew it.”
“You were going to kill yourself,” I repeat. “How?”
“Like this,” [Hero] says. She reaches into the jeweled box on her belt. There’s a little thing curled up in there, an enameled loop of chain, black and bronze. It uncoils in her hand, becomes a snake.
[Alicia] was the first of us to get a Face. I got mine when I was ten. I didn’t really know what was going on. I met all these boys my age, and then the Olds sat down and had a talk with me. They explained what was going on, said that I got to pick which Face I wanted. I picked the one who looked the nicest, the one who looked like he might be fun to hang out with. That’s how stupid I was back then.
[Hero] couldn’t choose, so I did it for her. Pick her, I said. That’s how strange life is. I picked her out of all the others.
[Yumiko] said she’d already talked to her Face. (We talk to our Faces as little as possible, although sometimes we sleep with each others’. Forbidden fruit is always freakier. Is that why I did what I did? I don’t know. How am I supposed to know?) [Yumiko] said her Face agreed to sign a new contract when [Yumiko] turns eighteen. She doesn’t see any reason to give up having a Face.
[Nishi] is [Preeti]‘s younger sister. They only broke ground on her pyramid last summer. Upper management teams from her father’s company came out to lay the first course of stones. A team-building exercise. Usually it’s prisoners from the Supermax prison out in Pelican Bay. Once they get to work, they mostly look the same. It’s hard work. We like to go out and watch.
Every once in a while a consulting archeologist or an architect will come over and try to make conversation. They think we want context.
They talk about grave goods, about how one day archeologists will know what life was like because a couple of girls decided they wanted to build their own pyramids.
We think that’s funny.
They like to complain about the climate. Apparently it isn’t ideal. “Of course, they may not be standing give or take a couple of hundred years. Once you factor in geological events. Earthquakes. There’s the geopolitical dimension. There’s graverobbers.”
They go on and on about the cunning of graverobbers.
We get them drunk. We ask them about the curse of the mummies just to see them get worked up. We ask them if they aren’t worried about the Olds. We ask what used to happen to the men who built the pyramids in Egypt. Didn’t they used to disappear, we ask? Just to make sure nobody knew where the good stuff was buried? We say there are one or two members of the consulting team who worked on [Alicia]‘s pyramid that we were friendly with. We mention we haven’t been able to get hold of them in a while, not since the pyramid was finished.
They were up on the unfinished outer wall of [Nishi]‘s pyramid. I guess they’d been up there all night. Talking. Making love. Making plans.
They didn’t see me. Invisible, that’s what I am. I had my phone. I filmed them until my phone ran out of memory. There was a unicorn down in the meadow by a pyramid. [Alicia]‘s pyramid. Two impossible things. Three things that shouldn’t exist. Four.
That was when I gave up on becoming someone new, the running, the kale, the whole thing. That was when I gave up on becoming the new me. Somebody already was that person. Somebody already had the only thing I wanted.
“Give me the code.” I say it over and over again. I don’t know how long it’s been. [Hero]‘s arm is greenish-black and blown up like a balloon. I tried sucking out the venom. Maybe that did some good. Maybe I didn’t think of it soon enough.
“[ ]?,” [Hero] says. “I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t want you to die either,” I say. I try to sound like I mean it. I do mean it. “Give me the code. Let me save you.”
“I don’t want them to die,” [Hero] says. “If I give you the code, you’ll do it. And I’ll die down here by myself.”
“You’re not going to die,” I say. I stroke her cheek. “I’m not going to kill anyone.”
After a while she says, “Okay.” Then she tells me the code. Maybe it’s a string of numbers that means something to her. More likely it’s random. I told you she was smarter than me.
I repeat the code back to her and she nods. I’ve covered her up with a shawl, because she’s so cold. I lay her head down on a pillow, brush her hair back.
“I’ll be right back,” I say.
She closes her eyes. Give me a horrible, blind smile.
I go over to the door and enter the code.
The door doesn’t open. I try again and it still doesn’t open.
“[Hero]? Tell me the code again?”
She doesn’t say anything. She’s fallen asleep. I go over and shake her gently. “Tell me the code one more time. Come on. One more time.”
Her eyes stay closed. Her mouth falls open. Her tongue is poking out.
It takes me a while to realize that she’s dead. And now it’s a little bit later, and my sister is still dead, and I’m still trapped down here with my dead sister and a bunch of broken shabtis. No food. No good music. Just a small canister of something nasty cooked up by my good friend Nikolay, and some size four jeans and the dregs of a bottle of very expensive champagne.
The Egyptians believed that every night the spirit of the person buried in the pyramids rose up through the false doors to go out into the world. Their Ba. Your Ba can’t be confined in a small dark room at the bottom of a deep shaft hidden under some pile of stones. Maybe I’ll fly out some night, some part of me. I keep trying combinations, but I don’t know how many numbers [Hero] used, what combination. It’s an endless task. There’s not much oil left to light the lamps. Some air comes in through the bottom of the door, but not much. It smells bad in here. I wrapped [Hero] up in her shawls and hid her in the closet. She’s in there with [Noodles]. I put him in her arms. Every once in a while I fall asleep and when I wake up I realize I don’t know which numbers I’ve tried, which I haven’t.
The Olds must wonder what happened. They’ll think it had something to do with that sex tape. Their publicists will be doing damage control. I wonder what will happen to my Face. What will happen to her. Maybe one night I’ll fly out. My Ba will fly right to her, like a bird.
One day someone will open the door that I can’t. I’ll be alive or else I won’t. I can open the canister or I can leave it closed. What would you do? I talk about it with [Hero], down here in the dark. Sometimes I decide one thing, sometimes I decide another.
Dying of thirst is a hard way to die.
I don’t really want to drink my own urine.
If I open the canister, I might die faster. It will be my curse on you, the one who opens the tomb.
I don’t want you to know my name. It was his name, really.
Kelly Link is the author of three collections of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. Her short stories have won three Nebulas, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award. She was born in Miami, Florida, and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question “Why do you want to go around the world?” (”Because you can’t go through it.”) Link and her family live in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press, and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.